The Sermon on the Mount: A Kingdom Ethic for A Kingdom People

The Sermon on the Mount remains one of the most unique texts in the Bible. Though Jesus’s sermon simmers with deep theological truth that militates against the secular conscience, those living well outside the confines of the established church still find the treatise to be a wonderful source of inspiration and insight. After all, most souls who have languished under bad bosses, corrupt political systems, and cruel neighbors long for a world defined by love, peace, and justice. For example, both those who pray for hours in a state of heightened spirituality and those who stumble about the streets for hours in a state of inebriation can resonate with the golden rule found in Matthew 12:7: “whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them.”

The fact that both atheists such as Richard Dawkins and that pastors such as John Stott can find much to praise in the Sermon on the Mount raises an important question: “Who is the Sermon on the Mount for?” In other words, can atheist live out Jesus’s message or is it a unique message for Jesus’s followers?

A Kingdom Ethic For A Kingdom People

According to Jesus and to the New Testament authors, the Sermon on the Mount is a Kingdom ethic for a Kingdom people.  Both Matthew 5 and its sister passage in Luke 6 affirm that the Sermon was delivered to by Jesus to his disciples. Jesus’s message is not for the crowds of this world. It is for those who are willing to sit at the feet of Jesus to hear his words. To achieve the ethic of the kingdom, men and women must willingly submit to the full teaching of Jesus which stretches across all 66 books of the Bible. Jesus came to fulfill the law.

Listen to the Law

The Law, the spoken words of God, prove essential to our understanding of the kingdom of God. Humanity’s failure to heed God’s teaching necessitated Jesus’s famed sermon. He preaches it and seeks to reconstitute the kingdom of God because Adam and Eve had destroyed the kingdom of God thousands of years ago. In Genesis 3:1-7, the first royal couple eats the fruit of the tree “that is in the midst of the garden (3).” The first expression of pride comes about because Adam ceased to listen to the words of God, preferring the insights of his bride Eve to the wisdom from above. The failure to heed the voice of God led to humanities expulsion from the kingdom of God. To regain the kingdom of God, men and women must once again heed the voice of God. Jesus explicitly states this idea in Matthew 5:19: “Whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” Kingdom power resides in the words of God.

Jesus Says, “You Can’t Do It Alone”

Those who reject Jesus’s words cannot hope to live out the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus does not applaud us for maintaining the generic level of goodness that society can attain at times. For example, in Matthew 7:27-30, Jesus does not pat husbands on the back because they had the self-control not to sleep with their secretary or a prostitute. The Son of God looks past external goodness. He says the law must control the hidden depths of the heart. “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Instead of applauding the man for keeping his pants on, Jesus takes issues with all the times the man has looked at a woman other than his wife and thought about bedding her. As a coworker once noted, this standard of goodness is “impossible.” The liberal theologian Richard Niebuhr concurs writing that Jesus, “does not direct attention away from this world to another but from all worlds…to the one who creates all worlds, who is the other of all worlds (29).”  No man or women in his or her own strength can live out the Sermon on the Mount. No one can reach the ethic of the kingdom apart for the ruler of that God for it is other worldly.  The kingdom ethic is for a kingdom people.

The Hope

Though humanity’s inability to live out the kingdom ethic should cast a shadow of despair over those who have refused to sit down with Jesus’s disciples atop the mountain, hope has not been vanquished. The path to hope runs through that despair. When men and women give up their aspirations of bringing the kingdom of heaven to earth through human effort, then and only then will they be able to finally see the beauty of the cross and the empty tomb. They can finally realize that Jesus has done for them what they could never do for themselves. This poverty of spirit and mourning over sin leads the soul into the kingdom of heaven and to everlasting comfort. The kingdom ethic is for a kingdom people, a people who value the words of God. Stop working. Come sit at the feet of Jesus.

We Are Not In The BIble Belt Anymore

FriendsNot in the BIble Belt, we are not in the Bible Belt anymore. Though elements of cultural Christianity drift about the South like the objects from Dorothy’s farmhouse (God Bless the United State, anyone?), we have been transported into a new world. The road to fulfillment no longer guides people to churches singing, “I Walk Through the Garden.” The yellow brick road of the twenty-first century points its guests to a technological wonderland with shiny towers dedicated to humanism, naturalism, and paganism.

A NOT SO GOOD OZ

The new Technicolor America surrounded by the Munchkins of secular diversity is, as one pastor said, a world of “hedonistic and unrestrained sexuality and selfishness” (p. 59). Our high school teachers are sleeping with students, our web designers are responsible for 89% of all pornographic web content, our scientists are silencing their critics via lawsuits, and our youth commit violent crimes against both the young and the elderly. The new American culture no longer seeks for the truth behind the curtain. Americans are their own final authority and their own god on all matters from sexuality to immigration. And things are not going particularly well in the new Oz.

Moreover, America is increasingly finding evangelicals to be scarier than winged monkeys. Today, researchers estimate that only 7% of the American population sees the world through the black and white lens of evangelicalism (Dickerson, 2013, p. 32). If trends hold true, less than 4% of America will be evangelical in the years ahead. Evangelicals are feared and decreasing in number.

Even things that might be considered good news are followed by bad. For example, the Bible is currently the most searched for book on google. Unfortunately it is followed by Fifty Shades of Grey, and The Fault in Our Stars. Christianity is losing the popularity battle to unrestrained sexuality and self-expression. Off to the modern Oz, we go.

OUR HOPE IS NOT GONE

I say all this not to dampen your day. God is still king. And His kingdom is moving forward (Mark 1:15). When He returns, we will really see in color as we enter a world of loving perfection. And as we wait, we can be confident that the Church will never disappear. And the gospel is moving powerfully in China, the Philippians, and South Korea. And there is every reason to hope that God will bring revival to our own nation. Jesus will rule the world one day (Rev. 7:9-10)!

WE CAN’T TRUST OZ  

I mention the above statistics to remind us parents of our responsibility to teach our children. No one else will help our kids grasp that there is more to the world than sex, money, and college degrees. The new American culture settling in on our screens will not teach our kids biblical morals. The internet will not make our kids wise. Hollywood will not inspire our kids to abandon violence. And, schools will not direct our children to spiritual truth and hope. If anything, they all point to a dark world swarming with disappointment.

If we want our kids to know Jesus and to understand the beauty of the gospel as it relates to work, school, sports, and music, we will have to teach our children. And while church is important, the task of teaching is primarily our responsibility (See Deut. 6). We watch our kids when they wake up, slap a sister, refuse to eat green beans, and score a touchdown. We have the wonderful ability to bring the gospel to bear in every aspect of their life. Let’s commit to following God’s plan and protect our kids from the coming tornado of American culture. Moreover, let’s commit to seeing our kids become brothers and sisters in the kingdom of Christ.

Works Cited

Dickerson, J. S. (2013). The Great Evangelical Recession. Grand Rapids: Baker .